Tuesday, June 18, 2024

How advertisers are taking a stand against ad fraud

While it seems most marketers and advertisers are only focused on the algorithm changes conducted by Google to their search engine in order to promote better content on the web, ad fraud isn’t a top concern for many everyday business managers.

But a group of advertisers wants to change that. The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) wants to stop ad fraud in real-time with a digital media community blacklist, which they are calling the Fraud Threat List.

TAG is made up of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), and Association of National Advertisers (ANA) members who want to squash ad fraud and create a honest, trustworthy playing field by creating a blacklist that can be updated in real time and shared across all groups.

Domains considered to be “bad” can already be blacklisted on a smaller level by ad exchanges, but this isn’t enough to keep the tide of bad traffic and other ad fraud from creating millions of dollars in damages because of security, upkeep, and dishonest advertising they create.

Also, if a blacklist is leaked to the public then those same fraudsters can change their tactics overnight so they aren’t detected by these ad exchanges and thus can continue to sell bad advertising.

TAG will be ensuring their Fraud Threat List remains private but also as a means of keeping the entire industry up-to-date with blacklisted domains. In order for a domain to be placed on the TAG blacklist, they must be marked by more than one ad group as fraudulent and then will immediately show up on the community Fraud Threat List. There will be no wait times to ensure that other ad buyers can avoid bad domains. Tight security measures will be used to make sure the information on the blacklist remains safe and secure.

Ad fraud has been around for as long as there have been advertisements but has especially become prevalent with the popularity of digital advertising. “Despite millions of dollars poured into detecting and stopping online ad fraud, it remains a substantial problem for online advertisers, especially in programmatic media,” according to a report by Marketing Magazine about ad fraud. They continued with, “In the first quarter of 2015, verification firm Integral Ad Science estimated that of 16.5% of U.S. ads bought on networks and exchanges were fraudulent.”

By centralizing the blacklist, TAG hopes to make it easier for ad buyers and others in the advertising industry to be tipped off in a timely, efficient way where others can be forewarned of newly blacklisted domains even faster. The best way to prevent bigger botnet networks from spreading fraudulent traffic and advertising is through outpacing the growth of those same scammers.

This isn’t an industry-specific problem, however. Even Google has a “special” anti-fraud task force within their company that employs about 100 people who all specialize in discovering and then preventing new ways these botnets can spread and siphon away legitimate ad dollars. Google has a vested interest in combating ad fraud because it helps clean up their search results as well as protecting their own billions in advertising revenue. Ad Age was given an insider view of the fraud team at Google in London and reported that the team will soon be publishing their findings and reports on how other advertisers can avoid botnets and their destructive methods.

Ad fraud beasts

There are four common types of ad fraud: botnets, ad insertions, CMS hacking, and robot retargeting. Each one utilizes malware to redirect or “possess” traffic without a website or company being aware that something is wrong.

The most common is the fake traffic, as reported earlier. However, the second most popular are ad insertions. These ads will inject themselves, without the website’s permission, into the actual website itself. When people click on those ads or interact with them in any way, that ad revenue won’t be going to the website but instead to the person or network that created the malware. This has increased with the popularity of programmatic advertising.

Ad Age has argued that ad fraud is so prevalent because not many influencers in advertising have the necessary funds or care to prevent it. Alex Kantrowitz writes that far too many advertisers benefit from the shadier practices of ad fraud more than they are hurt, although the recent coalition of TAG seems to say otherwise.

No matter what advertisers think on the subject, none of them can scoff at the numbers the Chameleon botnet network can rake in from fraudulent ads and scamming legitimate advertisers: $6 million per month.


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Stephanie Medeiros
Stephanie Medeiros
Stephanie is currently a marketing manager and freelance writer specializing in technology trends, start-ups, and new business strategies that converge at creativity and technology.


  1. Lists are good but there need to me be more discussion industry-wide on how sites end up on this list exactly, what happens when they are in the list (are they communicated about non-compliance etc), and how to get off that list. Also we know from the past that blacklists don’t work so well as there are a few hundred million domain names, and actually just a few hundred thousand of those are advertising quality. The other problem I see with the way this is currently being communicated, is that if we would create such a a list (as opposed to IAB), it would end up having a lot of sites in Google’s network, including a lot of sites in Blogger.com. I doubt that TAG is in the position to dig too deep in Google’s backyard. 

    Finally, I find it funny to see that the same people who have done nothing about this topic even all of this has been well known for years, are suddenly so convinced they know how to deal with it. Even to the extent of using language like “stamp out”. 

    You can join the ad fraud fight at http://botlab.io – the only independent and non-profit organisation in the digital media supply chain to fight ad fraud and other malicious practices.


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